Sri Lanka Nabs Oil Polluting Tanker Using Satellite Surveillance

oil pollution
Sri Lanka is testing a satellite surveillance system (file photo)

Published Feb 21, 2024 4:14 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Marine Environment Protection Authority of Sri Lanka is touting its success at nabbing an “unauthorized oil release” as part of a sophisticated new satellite surveillance system it began testing with support from France. According to the statement released by the authority on social media, it was the first successful case although they have already had more than 100 detection reports from the system.

The Global Crest, a 12,900 dwt crude oil tanker registered in Panama was in Sri Lanka’s anchorage on February 3. The vessel was repositioning to the anchorage near Colombo when on February 4 the initiative funded by the French government detected a large oil slick. The MEPA reports the stain was confirmed in satellite images nearly seven miles in length and spread over one square kilometer (0.3 sq. miles).

An analysis of the images quickly showed the oil slick appeared to be coming from the Global Crest, which is listed as part of the fleet of India’s Global Tankers and managed by a company in the UAE. The vessel anchored about 11 miles from Colombo late on February 5 and the following day the MEPA obtained an order to inspect the vessel.

“An onboard inspection was conducted which revealed clear evidence of the illegal discharge,” the MEPA reports. They moved to detain the ship and under its authority leveled a nearly $50,000 fine on the ship. They report on February 9 the vessel’s owner decided to pay the fine and the MEPA then moved to release the ship which departed for the UAE the following day.

Sri Lanka reports it started testing the system in September 2023 citing the successful deployment of similar technology in other parts of the world. They use as an example the ClearSeaNet service operated by the European Maritime Safety Authority saying the technology clearly has a deterrent effect. They say it has halved the number of pollution incidents in European waters in 10 years.

Since September 2023, the MEPA reports it has received more than 100 detection reports for investigation. The success of the test they said will pave the way toward developing a sovereign, fully operational local capability. They cite the strategic location of Sri Lanka on the international shipping route crossing the Indian Ocean which they say however also exposes the country to the risk of pollution both from accidental spills and illegal discharges.